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Tomáš Masaryk

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Tomáš Masaryk

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk
President of Czechoslovakia
In office
14 November 1918 – 14 December 1935
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Edvard Beneš
Personal details
Born (1850-03-07)7 March 1850
Hodonín, Austrian Empire
Died 14 September 1937(1937-09-14) (aged 87)
Lány, Czechoslovakia
Spouse(s) Charlotte Garrigue
Children Alice (1879-1966)
Herbert (1880-1915)
Jan (1886-1948)
Olga (1871-1978)
Profession Philosopher

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (Czech: [ˈtomaːʃ ˈɡarɪk ˈmasarɪk]), sometimes called Thomas Masaryk in English (7 March 1850 – 14 September 1937), was an Austrian-Czech politician, sociologist and philosopher, who as an eager advocate of Czechoslovak independence during World War I became the founder and first President of Czechoslovakia.[1] He originally wished to reform the Austro-Hungarian monarchy into a democratic federal state, but during the First World War he began to favour the abolition of the monarchy and, with the help of the Allied Powers, eventually succeeded.

Early life and education

Masaryk was born to a poor working-class family in the predominantly Catholic city of Hodonín, Moravia (in the region of Moravian Slovakia).[2] He grew up in the village of Čejkovice, in South Moravia, later moving to Brno to study.[3]

His father Jozef Masaryk (Masárik), an illiterate carter (later steward), was a Slovak from the Hungarian part of Austria-Hungary (after 1918 became the eastern province of Slovakia in Czechoslovakia), his mother Teresie Masaryková (née Kropáčková) was a Moravian of Slavic origin but with German education. They married on 15 August 1849.

"After grammar school in Brno and Vienna," from 1872-1876 Masaryk attended the University of Vienna, where he was a student of Franz Brentano.[4] He received his Ph.D. at the University of Vienna in 1876, and completed his habilitation thesis at the same university in 1879. The thesis was entitled, Der Selbststmord als sociale Massenerscheinung der modernen Civilisation ("Suicide as a Social Mass Phenomenon of Modern Civilization").[4] Between 1876 and 1879, he studied in Leipzig (with Wilhelm Wundt).

Meanwhile, the 15th March 1878, he married Charlotte Garrigue in Brooklyn.

In 1882, he was appointed Professor of Philosophy in the Czech part of the University of Prague. The following year he founded Athenaeum, a magazine devoted to Czech culture and science.

He challenged the validity of the epic poems Rukopisy královedvorský a zelenohorský, supposedly dating from the early Middle Ages, and providing a false nationalistic basis of Czech chauvinism to which he was continuously opposed. Further enraging Czech sentiment, he fought against the old superstition of Jewish blood libel during the Hilsner Trial of 1899.

Early career

Masaryk served in the Reichsrat (Austrian Parliament) from 1891 to 1893 in the Young Czech Party and again from 1907 to 1914 in the Realist Party (which he founded in 1900), but he did not campaign for the independence of Czechs and Slovaks from Austria-Hungary. In 1909 he helped Hinko Hinković in Vienna in the defense during the fabricated trial against members of the Croato-Serb Coalition (such as Frano Supilo and Svetozar Pribićević), and others, who were convicted to more than 150 years and a number of death penalties.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, Masaryk concluded that the best course was to seek an independent country for Czechs and Slovaks, and that this could only be done from outside Austria-Hungary. He went into exile with his daughter Olga in December 1914, first to Rome, then to Geneva, and from there to London via Paris in 1915, Russia in May 1917 and the United States via Vladivostok and Tokyo in April 1918. From Geneva onwards he started organizing Czechs and Slovaks living outside Austria-Hungary, primarily in Switzerland, France, England, Russia and the United States, and establishing the contacts that would prove crucial to the cause of Czechoslovak independence. He also gave lectures and wrote numerous articles and official memoranda supporting the Czechoslovak cause. In Russia he was pivotal in establishing Czechoslovak Legions as an effective fighting force on the side of the Allies of World War I.

In 1915 he was one of the first members of staff of the newly formed School of Slavonic and East European Studies, which is now a part of University College London, and where the Student Society and Senior Common Room are named after him.

He became Professor of Slavic Research at King's College in London lecturing on "The problem of small nations".

During the war, Masaryk's intelligence network of Czech revolutionaries provided important and critical intelligence to the Allies. Masaryk's European network worked with an American counter-espionage network of nearly 80 members headed by E.V. Voska who, as Habsburg subjects, were presumed to be German supporters but were involved in spying on German and Austrian diplomats.

Among other things, the intelligence from these networks was critical in uncovering the Hindu-German Conspiracy in San Francisco.[5][6][6][7][8]

In 1916, Masaryk went to France to convince the French government of the necessity of disintegrating Austria-Hungary. After the February Revolution in 1917 he proceeded to Russia (he left London for St. Petersburg) to help organize Slavic resistance to the Austrians, the Czechoslovak Legions.

In 1918 he traveled to the United States, where he convinced President Woodrow Wilson of the rightness of his cause. Speaking on 26 October 1918 from the steps of Independence Hall in Philadelphia as head of the Mid-European Union, Masaryk called for the independence of the Czechoslovaks and other oppressed peoples of Central Europe. On May 5, 1918 more than 150,000 Chicagoans filled the streets to give a triumphant welcome to Professor Thomas Garrigue Masaryk, the future President of Czechoslovakia. Masaryk was coming from Russia where he helped to organize the Czechoslovak Legion from former P.O.Ws. to fight for an independent Czechoslovak State. Chicago was then the center of Czechoslovak immigration in the United States and gave Masaryk an enthusiastic reception, echoing Masaryk's earlier visits to the city and his visiting professorship at the University of Chicago in 1902. Prior to 1918 T. G. Masaryk had lectured at the University of Chicago in 1902 and 1907. He also had strong personal links with the U.S. since 1878 through his marriage with an American citizen Charlotte Garrigue and friendship with Charles R. Crane. Thanks to Crane, a Chicago industrialist, Masaryk was invited to the University of Chicago and introduced into highest political circles, including to Woodrow Wilson.

Leader of Czechoslovakia; later years

With the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, the Allies recognized Masaryk as head of the Provisional Czechoslovak government, and on November 14, 1918, he was elected President of the Czechoslovak republic by the National Assembly in Prague.

Masaryk was re-elected as president three times: in 1920, 1927, and 1934. After the rise of Hitler, he was one of the first political figures in Europe to voice concern. He resigned from office on December 14, 1935 on the grounds of old age and poor health, and Edvard Beneš succeeded him.

On paper, Masaryk's powers as president were limited; the framers of the 1920 constitution intended for the Prime Minister and Cabinet to hold the real power. He did, however, provide a considerable measure of stability in the face of frequent changes of government (there were 10 cabinets headed by nine Prime Ministers during his tenure). Due to this stability as well as his great prestige inside and outside the country, Masaryk enjoyed almost legendary authority among the Czechoslovak people. He used this authority to create an extensive informal political network called Hrad (the Castle). Under his watch, Czechoslovakia became the strongest democracy in central Europe.

Masaryk died less than two years after leaving office, at the age of 87, in Lány, Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic. Dying when he did, he was spared witnessing the Munich Agreement and the Nazi occupation of his country.

Masaryk wrote several books, including The Problems of Small Nations in the European Crisis (1915) and The World Revolution (1925, in Czech, published in English as The Making of a State (1927)). The writer Karel Čapek wrote a series of articles entitled 'Hovory s TGM' (Conversations with TGM) which were later collected as a form of autobiography.

Personal life and philosophy

Masaryk's life motto was: Nebát se a nekrást (Do not fear and do not steal). Masaryk as a philosopher was an outspoken rationalist and humanist. He emphasised practical ethics, reflecting the influence of Anglo-Saxon philosophers, French philosophy, and especially the work of 18th Century German philosopher, Johann Gottfried Herder, who is considered the founder of nationalism. He was critical of German idealistic philosophy and Marxism.

Masaryk married Charlotte Garrigue in 1878, and took her family name as his middle name. They met in Leipzig, Germany and were engaged in 1877. Mrs. Masaryk was born in Brooklyn in a Protestant family with French Huguenots among their ancestors. She came to learn Czech perfectly and published studies on Bedřich Smetana in a Czech magazine. Hardships experienced during the war took their toll on her and she died in 1923, from an unspecified illness. Their son, Jan Masaryk, served as Foreign Minister in the Czechoslovak government-in-exile (1940–1945) and in the governments of 1945 to 1948. Charlotte gave birth to four other children, Herbert, Alice, Anna, and Olga.

Although born Catholic, he eventually became a non-practising Protestant Unitarian, influenced in part by the declaration of Papal Infallibility in 1870 and his wife, Charlotte, who was raised Unitarian.

Legacy and recognition

As the principal founding father of Czechoslovakia, Masaryk was regarded similar to the way George Washington is regarded in the United States. Even to this day, Czechs and Slovaks alike regard him as the symbol of democracy

The Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk is a state decoration established in 1990 and named in honor of Masaryk. It is awarded to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to humanity, democracy and human rights.

Masaryk University in Brno, founded in 1919 as the second university of Czechoslovakia, is named after him.

Numerous statues, busts and plaques commemorate Masaryk. Most monuments are located in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, although some exist in other countries; notably a statue in Washington, DC on Massachusetts Avenue, as well as in Chicago on the Midway and in San Francisco in Rose garden. A plaque with a portrait of Masaryk is set on a wall of Rachiv, Ukraine, on the site of a hotel where he reportedly resided for a time (in 1917 to 1918). There is also a bust of Masaryk, erected in 2002, at Druzhba Narodiv Square (Friendship of Nations Square) in Uzhhorod, in the far-western corner of Ukraine.

Avenida Presidente Masaryk (President Masaryk Avenue), a very important avenue in Mexico City, takes its name from him, as does Masaryktown, Florida. So too does the Kfar Masryk kibbutz near Haifa, Israel, founded largely by Czechoslovak immigrants. Also Tel Aviv has a Masaryk Square - Masaryk had visited Tel Aviv in 1927. There is a Street in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, named Masarykova ulica, as well in many other Croatian towns such as Dubrovnik, Daruvar, Varaždin and Split. Masarikova ulica in Belgrade, Serbia, although one of the smallest in the city, has the address of the tallest building in Belgrade, the Beograđanka palace. One of the streets in the centre of Novi Sad, Serbia is named Masarikova ulica. One of the biggest streets in the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana, is also named after Masaryk. There is "Rue Thomas Masaryk" in Geneva as well, as well as in downtown Bucharest, Romania.


  • (1885) Základové konkretné logiky [Foundations of concrete logic]. Prague. (German translation: Versuch einer concreten Logik, Vienna, 1887)
  • (1898) Otázka sociální [The social question]. Prague. (German translation: Die philosophischen und sociologischen Grundlagen des Marxismus, Vienna, 1899)
  • (1913) Russland und Europa [Russia and Europe]. Jena, Germany. (English translation: The Spirit of Russia, tr. Eden and Cedar Paul, London, 1919)
  • (1925) Světová revoluce [World revolution]. Prague. (English translations: The Making of a State, tr. H. W. Steed, London, 1927; Making of a State, tr. Howard Fertig, 1970.)

Family tree

Tomáš Masaryk
Charlotte Garrigue


Further reading

  • Čapek, Karel. (1931–35). Hovory s T. G. Masarykem [Conversations with T. G. Masaryk]. Prague. (English translations: President Masaryk Tells His Story, tr. M. and R. Weatherall, London, 1934; and Masaryk on Thought and Life, London, 1938)
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  • Thomas G. Masaryk Papers [1](Thomas G. Masaryk Papers, 1918-1919, SC.1983.01, Special Collections Department, University of Pittsburgh)

External links

  • Who's Who: Tomas Masaryk
  • WorldCat catalog)

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